Sunday, May 16, 2010

Why Cyclists Choose Sonoma County, California

Less than an hour north of San Francisco is some of the best bicycle riding in Northern California: flower-lined country roads that pass organic farms and under towering redwoods, quaint lanes past vineyards and wineries, and winding routes that follow the gentle Russian River to the wild Pacific coastline.

Sonoma County is synonymous with good riding. With 1,400 miles of lightly traveled secondary roads and a growing system of off-road bike trails, Sonoma County appeals to a wide variety of riders. Whether you are a dedicated cyclist attacking mountain passes or a weekend pedaler eager to sip wine and cycle through the vines, Sonoma County can provide you the perfect track. It's no wonder Bicycling Magazine listed the area one of "The 7 Greatest Rides on Earth."

Sonoma County is also home to an avid cycling community epitomized by star resident and professional cyclist Levi Leipheimer. Serious bicyclists come to train as well as to compete, and for the past two years the Amgen Tour of California, America’s answer to the Tour de France, has included Sonoma County in its seven stage route.

“I’ve ridden and raced all over the world,” says Gavin Chilcott, manager of the Amgen Race Team BMC, a new professional cycling team based in Sonoma County. “There’s no better place for cyclists. That’s why our team is based here. The quality of rides and the quality of life can’t be beat.”

Here’s how to explore Sonoma County by bicycle:

Challenge & Train

Two challenging rides in the county are the Kings Ridge-Tin Barn Road ride near Cazadero and Coleman Valley Road near Occidental. The Kings Ridge ride, favored by pro racer Levi Leipheimer, is a challenging, hilly course. It is considered one of the most beautiful, fulfilling bike rides in the world. The Coleman Valley ride is a landmark climb in Northern California and was featured in this year’s Amgen Tour of California.

The Sonoma Coast 40-mile ride is best done in the early morning before the motorists hit Highway One. It includes a couple of challenging hills. A good starting place is the town of Occidental through Monte Rio and Duncans Mills along Highway 116 to the fishing village of Bodega Bay.

The Geysers 50-mile loop (3500' of climb) is very remote, with no services and very challenging terrain between Geyserville and Cloverdale. Fit, experienced riders only.

Sip & Cycle

Come for one of the popular wine-tasting rides, known as “sip and cycle,” where you can stop along the way every mile or so to taste wines at one of the more than 250 local Sonoma County wineries. There are ideal places along the way to linger with a picnic of fresh wine country produce, breads, pasta, olive oil, fruit, cheese and chocolates.

The West Dry Creek Road near Healdsburg is a picturesque ride with a few rolling hills through vineyards and country roads. Many of the wineries are only minutes apart. Another great route is Red Winery Road in the Alexander Valley between Healdsburg and Geyserville. This is a quiet, peaceful, flat and virtually traffic free area with beautiful oak dotted hills and miles of vineyards.

Bring the Whole Family

Explore the many paths as you pedal through Armstrong Redwoods under the giant trees in a truly tranquil and peaceful setting.

The Joe Rodota Trail, a segment of the West County Trail, is paved and runs between Santa Rosa and Sebastopol. It’s built on an former railroad right-of-way; several bridges have been constructed over the old trestles. The trail is especially popular in the spring with the vivid blooming of the wildflowers. It is an excellent place for bird watching year-round.

The West County Trail between the towns of Sebastopol and Forestville is a paved path and relatively flat with a few gentle climbs. An unpaved horseback riding trail runs parallel. The West County Trail and the Joe Rodota Trail offer beautiful farm and agricultural views.

Leisure & Moderate Trails

The leisurely 20-mile Sonoma Valley ride explores the scenic Valley of the Moon. Begin at the Sonoma Plaza, ride past the historic General Vallejo home and continue on back roads through the town of Glen Ellen to the Jack London State Historic Park. The winding roads and gentle climbs allow you to soak in the beautiful views of lush greenery, vineyards, streams and oak trees.

Starting and ending in Petaluma, the 30-mile Spring Hill-Chileno Valley ride is a pleasant tour of the dairy lands along the border between Sonoma and Marin Counties. Much of this trail is on quiet back roads and is very scenic; some sections offer moderate to fairly serious climbs.

These companies offer bicycle rentals or tours:

Getaway Adventures & Rentals
2228 Northpoint Parkway
Santa Rosa, CA 95407
Bike rentals or guided personalized tours; gourmet lunches available.

Rincon Cyclery
4927 Sonoma Hwy # H
Santa Rosa, CA 95409

Located just blocks away from excellent riding sites - Spring Lake Park, Howarth Park and Annadel Park. Staff will help you find the right bike and the right trail or road to ride on.

Windsor Bicycle Center
830 McClelland Drive
Windsor, CA 95492

A popular starting off point for cyclists, the town of Windsor’s bicycle shop on the Town Green provides rentals, repairs and sales. Local restaurants and cafes make it a good spot to start, finish or just take a break from, a ride through the vineyards.

Other good places for cycling information:

Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition
PO Box 3088
Santa Rosa CA 95402-3088

The coalition also has a bicycle map online, or available for purchase a printed map:

Santa Rosa Cycling Club
P.O. Box 6008
Santa Rosa, CA 95407
Excellent site for group events and rides.

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